Posts Tagged confidence
I recently had the good fortune to go on a guided pheasant hunt with my dad, a life-long friend and a bunch of other really good guys. One of those guys documented the three-day trip with his camera. Everywhere we went, into the field and back in the lodge, he took candid shots. I noticed the camera pointed at me several times, and was anxious to see the results, until I did.
Self-perception is an odd thing, and it’s difficult to do correctly. Most of us are far too critical about how we appear. Others, like me, are somewhat delusional about how we appear. A rare few are actually accurate in their perception of how others see them.
Walking around with a severe limp and a droopy right eye for most of my life, I have learned not to worry about how others see me. Though I’m somewhat aware of them, I choose not to acknowledge negative perceptions. That’s relatively easy to do when you are away from the camera and surrounded by familiar people. Even the mirror, though it does not lie, can be fooled with a careful pose. The candid camera cannot.
So, there I was, crooked leg, bald head and droopy eye, with my dad helping me carry my plate from the buffet line. I remember the moment and the camera to my side. I wasn’t bothered by it then, but I was when I first saw the picture. The insecurities that I had carefully tucked out of sight escaped and bopped me in the back of the head.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Insecurities haunt all of us, at least occasionally – even powerful and famous people. President Franklin Roosevelt consciously hid his disability from the American public throughout his twelve years as President of the United States. He wasn’t ashamed of his disability; he just didn’t want to be judged by it or to have critics see it as a weakness, so when cameras were present, he was careful to keep his wheelchair out of the photo.
It’s OK to minimize your vulnerabilities in order to craft the image you want to project. We should try to look and act our best. Like it or not, friends and strangers alike respond to our image. What’s not OK is to let the things you can’t control about your image bring you down, and that’s what I did.
I focused on my weaknesses while completely ignoring my strengths. I prioritized what I’d like to change over what I value. I held myself to an ideal that is beyond my reach. What’s more, I did all of this without any outside prompting. No one on the trip treated me any differently.
Who isn’t guilty of this, at least occasionally? Maybe it’s not our physical appearance, but a perceived shortcoming of intelligence or achievement that makes us feel inferior. Maybe we don’t invite friends to our homes, because we feel that our homes don’t compare to theirs.
None of that matters. What matters is how we see ourselves. My parents taught me that lesson in my pre-teen years, when it became obvious that my disability was going to affect my future. They encouraged me to value and capitalize on my blessings, and they wouldn’t let me feel sorry for myself. My friends, teachers and others around me reinforced that credo, which allowed me to create a cocoon around myself in my teenage years.
I’ve been able to move that cocoon with me through the different phases of my 48 years: college, young career, fatherhood and to where I am now. Very rarely does something penetrate the cocoon, but that picture did.
Fortunately, I was able to quickly recover by stepping back and taking a larger view – a view in which my gratitude squashed my insecurities. That was easy to do as I looked through the other pictures.
We had been blessed with great weather, which isn’t a given in late December in South Dakota. If the weather had been different, I likely wouldn’t have been able to participate in the hunt. Furthermore, our outfitter was extremely accommodating of my limited mobility, letting me use a UTV to get around. Last, but certainly not least, I was able to have a great time with a great group of new friends. It would have been really difficult to improve the experience.
It’s amazing how blinded we can become by our insecurities. Most of the time, when they obscure our blessings, we need only take a short step to the side and look more closely. Those blessings are usually right there in front of us.
In the next few months, many children will have the opportunity to participate in wrestling for the first time. Just like the kids, many parents will embrace the opportunity, while others will resist. Because of the timely life lessons wrestling teaches children, I urge everyone to seriously consider trying the sport, if only for one season.
Usually, those who resist wrestling are unfamiliar with the sport. Wrestling can be an intimidating sport, but it’s also one with great potential to develop young adults, both physically and mentally.
My own son resisted until seventh grade. “I don’t want to roll around with a bunch of sweaty guys,” he told me, echoing the popular mantra of basketball players everywhere. My wife, with her medical background, wasn’t very supportive either, citing the skin rashes she saw wrestlers bring to her clinic. I had wrestled in high school – I wasn’t very good, but I wrestled – and I knew what it could teach kids, so I persisted until both agreed to a one-year trial season.
That was four seasons ago – two in junior high, one on the junior varsity team and last year’s varsity season. In that time, he’s experienced extreme highs and extreme lows. There were times that he enjoyed wrestling almost as much as football, and there were times that he talked about quitting. There were dominating wins and puzzling losses, weeks when nothing could go wrong and weeks when everything went wrong. More important than all of that are the lessons that have helped him develop into the young man he is today.
- There is no entitlement in wrestling. It doesn’t matter where you are ranked or whether or not your coach likes you, your value as a wrestler depends on your most recent performance on the mat. Last year, I watched a wrestler, who spent most of the season ranked #2, lose two tough matches in the district tournament and fail to qualify for the state tournament. He was a senior who had placed at the state tournament the previous year, but that and his ranking didn’t matter – only what happened on the mat. In a matter of minutes, his season was over. In wrestling, you must constantly earn what you get.
- Wrestling teaches toughness. I got my first bloody nose in youth boxing at the age of 7, and never forgot it. At first, I wanted to cry and get out of the ring, but something deep inside me brought me back to the fight. Too many kids make it through childhood without a bloody nose. In wrestling, we have “blood time.” Wrestlers get their mouths smashed, their noses bloodied, their eyes blackened and their joints twisted. Wrestling teaches athletes how to work through pain and discomfort. Wrestling teaches toughness.
- Wrestling teaches discipline. Because they have to make weight and need to be in superb shape to succeed, successful wrestlers maintain their bodies like finely tuned machines. Even away from practice and competition, they can’t forget that they are wrestlers. When their friends are feasting on fast food and sodas or staying up too late, wrestlers have to make decisions that will help them on the mat. They know that slipping on discipline will have negative consequences on the mat.
- Wrestling instills confidence. It takes courage to walk out onto the mat. Once you overcome the fear of competition and the loneliness of being on the mat, everything else in life seems easier. Famous collegiate and Olympic wrestler Dan Gable says that 80% of wrestling matches are decided before the first whistle blows. “One competitor already knows he’s going to win, and the other knows he’s going to lose before either steps onto the mat,” he says. Once wrestlers develop confidence, they learn how to use it to give themselves a competitive edge.
- Wrestling teaches self-reliance. Too many kids look outward for blame when they experience failure. When you are on the mat, no one is going to come save you. You have to decide how hard you are going to fight to win. If you fail, you have no one else to blame. You can’t blame your teammates, your coach’s play-calling or officiating. You win or lose on your own.
- Wrestlers don’t go pro. Yes, I know that professional wrestling still exists, but very few wrestlers have professional aspirations. Contrast that with other popular sports. Many basketball, baseball and football players believe that they are going to make millions in professional sports, so much so that they plan for it at the expense of education and other preparation. Wrestlers are under no such illusions. They compete for the sake of competition, not fame or money.
- Wrestlers come in all shapes and sizes. Height and weight are large factors for success in several popular sports, like basketball and football, but they don’t mean much in wrestling. Wrestling is a sport where small kids or heavy, but relatively short kids can be extremely successful. Where else can a scrawny 106-pound or short 250-pound kid win a state championship?
- Wrestlers learn to respect their opponents. There is a lot of down time at wrestling events, and many wrestlers will compete against each other multiples times in one season. In that down time, they get to know each other, and will even cheer each other on. Not all of them are friends, but they all know what goes into a wrestling season, and they respect each other because of that shared sacrifice.
Even if your child never wins a match, he’ll learn a lot about himself and how he fits into the world. While it’s true the other sports can teach most of these lessons, the intensity of a wrestling season is hard to match. When you sign your child up for a wrestling season, you give them a competitive edge that will help them succeed in life. Don’t miss that opportunity.
Looking back at it, I’m fortunate that the receptionist paged her boss and not security or the police when I showed up in the lobby. I saw the fear and uncertainty in her eyes, and I couldn’t really blame her. I looked like I just tumbled out of a slasher movie.
Two hours earlier, in my haste to get on the road, I tripped over a curb and landed on my left shoulder and cheek (the cheek on my face) in my office parking lot. The pavement was wet with melting snow, dirt and the snow-melt compound that the maintenance guy had put down. When I landed, I ground all of that into my face, hands, shirt and pants. For good measure, in stunned unawareness, I wiped my freshly bloodied knuckles on my pants.
Seconds earlier, I had looked fairly good in my new black shirt and freshly pressed khaki pants. I was on my way to win business from people I had never met in person, and I was full of confidence. I didn’t look so good now, I thought to myself, as I looked in the rear-view mirror and wiped blood and dirt from my face with an old rag I found under the seat. I considered postponing, but it would have been weeks before I would be able to get all of these guys in one room again. My competitors would loom during those days.
Because I had just enough time to make the drive, I wasn’t even able to stop by a bathroom to perform triage. I was going to have to go in raw and mangled, hoping to use confidence to overcome the obstacles my appearance presented.
Many of life’s pivotal points come in moments like these, when our confidence is shaken at precisely the moment we need it the most. How we respond often determines our life direction, at least for a while.
Doubt and feelings of inferiority often flash into our conscious when we have an unexpected opportunity to assert ourselves. Maybe a boss asks for our opinion in a meeting. Maybe we have an unexpected opportunity to volunteer for an important task or meet an important person. Rather than living with regrets, we should seize these unexpected opportunities for exactly what they are – opportunities.
On my very first day of student teaching, in my very first hour, I learned that my cooperating teacher had called in sick and the substitute teacher had absolutely no idea how to teach the material. Instead of a day spent observing and getting comfortable with my surroundings, like I expected, I was thrust in front of a classroom of high school students for the first time since I was a high school student myself, three years earlier. I was nervous but it went well, and I developed courage under fire.
I was fortunate that my life had prepared me for situations like this. For about 35 years now, I’ve dragged around a mostly non-functional leg, so I’m accustomed to people struggling to suppress inadvertent stares when I walk into a room of strangers.
When I was younger, this bothered me tremendously, and I did everything I could to avoid walking in front of strangers. Even in college, I showed up early for classes and snuck away after the room cleared, in an attempt to make my first impression from a sitting position. I wanted people to know and like me, before letting them in on my handicap. I didn’t trust others not to judge me, and I hadn’t developed self-worth.
Now, as a motivational speaker, I sometimes walk across an auditorium stage in front of hundreds. I’m able to do this, because I no longer worry about what conclusions people make when they see me for the first time. I know that the people who matter could care less about how I move from one point to another. In fact, I know that if I don’t let it bother me, they won’t let it bother them.
Back in my truck after my client meeting, I looked at myself in the rearview mirror and smiled. My cheek was swollen now, and a rivulet of dried blood ran from the corner of my eye, but I killed it. My heightened confidence helped me compensate for my Freddy Kruger appearance. I had not only won the account, it’s been our biggest piece of business year to date.
As a fan of the Nebraska Husker football team, certain things are expected of me. I’m supposed to be reverent and respectful when discussing Dr. Tom Osborne. I’m supposed to cringe when I hear Oklahoma’s Boomer Sooner music. I’m supposed to have a closet full of red logo wear for game days, and I’m supposed to hate Texas and Notre Dame. I’m good until I get to the hating part.
In fact, I like Texas and Notre Dame. Yeah, I said it and wrote it. Texas and Notre Dame have rich histories, and they both consistently field successful football teams. Even more important, both teams – like every other team in the country – have good kids on their teams – kids who are working hard to get an education so they can succeed. And, I’m supposed to hate them and cheer against them?
When I was younger, I thought that being faithful to my team meant that I had to dislike other teams, so I did. I cherished those rare moments when Oklahoma, Missouri or Colorado lost. Of course, when they lost and my team won, my team rose to the top, but it was more than that; I didn’t want anyone to be as good as my team. I resented their success.
This sort of thinking is evident in sports, but it’s as prevalent, though often more subtle, in other parts of life. We see our friends move into a larger, nicer home than we have, and we’re jealous and suspicious about how they made that happen. We read about a business competitor’s success in the newspaper, and we secretly hope that they’ll receive their comeuppance. Another athlete on our child’s team shows signs of greatness, and we suspect that his coach unfairly favors that kid. We resent success.
Why do we resent success for others? I believe we do so because humans are prone to inferiority, and we often suffer from a lack of appreciation. We are not at peace with ourselves and our accomplishments, and we don’t fully appreciate the lives that we lead. It’s not easy, but recognizing and acknowledging these weaknesses allows us to mitigate the damage they can inflict on our happiness.
Inferiority is particularly crippling, because it’s based on our feelings about ourselves. Until we change the way that we think about ourselves, it will be difficult to admire the success of others, let alone achieve success for ourselves. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Inferiority begins and ends at the individual level.
Our levels of appreciation and inferiority work conversely. As appreciation for our blessings rises, our inferiority diminishes. When appreciation is high, inferiority is low, and we feel free to celebrate the success of others.
During the recent national championship game, I wore a Husker windbreaker as I cheered for Notre Dame. Those who watched the game know that the Irish were dominated from the beginning by the much more talented Alabama team. I felt sorry for the Notre Dame football players, particularly Manti Te’o, Notre Dame’s All-American linebacker who is by all accounts a great person away from the field as well as on it. At the same time, I was happy for the Alabama players who had worked so hard to beat an undefeated team so convincingly. Since I didn’t follow Alabama throughout the year, like I had Notre Dame, I wasn’t as familiar with their players, except for Barrett Jones, who, like Te’o, was as impressive off the field as he was on it. It was hard not to admire his skills and dedication.
In the middle, often away from the camera’s focus, was an epic battle between Jones and Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix. Nix is a talented player in his own right. Many think he would have been a high pick in this year’s NFL draft, but he chose to come back to graduate in his senior season, honoring a commitment he made to his mother.
Instead of cheering against one squad or the other, like much of America was doing, I simply enjoyed watching two talented teams, whose players have exciting futures ahead of them, give everything they had in order to win the game.
Though I am not always successful, I try to apply the same approach to life. Instead of looking suspiciously at the success of others, I try to find something that I can admire and perhaps apply to my own life. I find myself more at peace, more optimistic and more successful this way.
— Mitch Arnold